After losing its ability to prevent dangerous materials from falling into the hands of terrorists a month ago, the government is concerned for the safety of chemical facilities across the nation.
Since its inception, the Department of Homeland Security has had the authority to check the security measures in place at chemical storage and use facilities.
Additionally, the establishments themselves must investigate any potential hires’ connections to terrorism.
However, the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards program was not renewed by Congress, and it ended on July 28.
Homeland Security officials claim that this left huge gaps in the nation’s security, and they are urging Congress to take swift action this week when it reconvenes.
Alejandro Mayorkas, the secretary of homeland security, told attendees of the Chemical Security Summit, which took place in northern Virginia last week, that “the risk that terrorists could access and weaponize the dangerous chemicals produced in these facilities increases by the day.
A facility must notify the Department of Homeland Security of any quantity of any of a long list of “chemicals of interest” it has, according to the program. In order to develop a security plan, the facility must be deemed high-risk, according to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which is part of DHS.
The organization evaluates the plan to ensure that it addresses issues like physical security and cybersecurity, and after that, it conducts inspections to ensure that businesses are compliant.
The list contains more than 300 chemicals, including elements like sodium nitrate and chlorine.
According to agency data, there are about 3,200 high-risk facilities in the nation. The rules apply to any facility that uses chemicals in a certain amount, such as those involved in agriculture, plastics, or pharmaceuticals, to name a few.
They do not just apply to companies that manufacture or distribute chemicals. Additionally, facilities send Homeland Security the names of potential hires so that they can be screened for ties to radical organizations. About 300 names per day were being run through databases before the program expired, according to CISA official Kelly Murray, who spoke at the conference. That’s finished now.
The Department was given permission by Congress to start the chemical security program in 2006, and it became operational the following year. But every few years, Congress must also renew the power.
It has thus far. The House overwhelmingly approved its reauthorization this summer.
However, after Sen. Rand Paul raised concerns, the Senate decided against doing so. Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, claimed in a speech to Congress on July 26 that such regulations favor large corporations because they obstruct the entry of new businesses and that even in the absence of such regulations, businesses would still maintain security measures out of self-interest.
Paul opined that because they want to protect their investment, all of them would still have fences, barbed wire, and security measures in place even if the program didn’t exist.
He claimed that the Senate was passing the legislation quickly and without giving it enough thought, such as whether it would duplicate existing government initiatives.
Despite his reservations, he stated that he would vote in favor of it if the Senate also approved his proposal to put in place a scoring system that would allow any proposed government program to be evaluated to see if it duplicates programs that already exist.
There has been no progress on reauthorizing the rule because the Senate has been out of session all of August and will only be back on Tuesday. The program has expired, according to a notice posted on CISA’s website. The agency claims that as a result, facilities are no longer required to report chemicals of interest, and the agency is also unable to conduct inspections or mandate that facilities put in place site security measures.
According to representatives of Homeland Security, the program’s failure has left them without a crucial security tool.
According to Jen Easterly, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the organization inspects chemical facilities 160 times per month on average.
In the interim, according to Murray, the department is devoting personnel to a program called ChemLock, which aids businesses that use or handle potentially hazardous chemicals in maintaining their security.
However, because participation in that program is entirely optional, the department is powerless to enforce it if businesses refuse.
Murray also expressed concern about losing staff if the program is not renewed soon. Many in the sector claim that they are also alarmed by the program’s expiration.